Spare Parts: Designated pinch-runner is perfect for a team full of DHs

Billy Hamilton
(Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports)

The Atlantic League, which has been the testing ground for ideas kicked around by Major League Baseball, opens its season today with three new experimental rules, and one should catch the attention of White Sox fans.

1. The designated pinch-runner: Each club will list a player who is not otherwise in the starting lineup as a designated pinch-runner. That player may then be substituted at any point into the game as a baserunner. The player who is substituted for, as well as the pinch-runner, may then return to the game without penalty.

This rule is intended to inject more speed into the sport, without a subsequent decrease in offensive upside when that spot in the batting order comes up again. MLB has never allowed players who exit a game to return to it.

The designated hitter once caused baseball fans to recoil in horror and now it’s an established part of the entire league, so I’m hesitant to reject this out of hand, but at least the DH adhered to the tenet of no re-entries. Allowing players to leave and return to the game — and allowing a player to sub in over and over again — is a completely different beast, and one I’d consider unwelcome.

Which is funny, because this White Sox team could use a designated pinch-runner more than most. Imagine Billy Hamilton running for Andrew Vaughn … or Yasmani Grandal … or Gavin Sheets … or Eloy Jiménez … all without the risk of Hamilton having to bat for himself, a la Hanser Alberto several days ago.

But I think back to the way Major League Baseball implemented slot values and hard caps for the draft and international pools, both of which benefited the White Sox’s way of doing business more than that of any other team, and it hasn’t transformed the way they operate.

If that pattern is the precedent, then the White Sox might become even less transactional, because they’d probably think they could just keep running the same guys out there and hoping their flaws recede. Not being able to play the games to begin with remains the biggest issue, as Steve Stone said on airwaves not owned by the team.

Spare Parts

Between big-spending MLB teams agreeing to longer contracts to reduce the annual hit, and Major League Baseball starting an “economic reform committee” in response to Steve Cohen’s indifference to luxury tax thresholds, it only makes sense that the league would try to close what it perceives to be a loophole. Once again, Peter Seidler screws up their stance:

“These are guys that are just terrific young men in our opinion, and the ones we’ve signed to long-term contracts, we believe it really adds to the fans, knowing that they get to see these players for five, 10 — you know, in Tatis’ case, 14 years,” Seidler said. “(We) carefully selected both the baseball skills and the personal qualities that we look for.”

Later, Seidler said, “good financials follow good players.”

James Fegan’s story about Jake Burger and Gavin Sheets reminded me of his story about the relationship between Burger and Dane Dunning, which probably reflects Burger’s personality and his ability to connect.

The Cleveland Guardians have really committed to a type in the outfield — speedy, high-contract, good defense. The trade-off? It took 17 games for the Cleveland outfield to produce its first homer.

Things could always be worse, because the Royals have started the season 1-11 at home.

Things were looking equally putrid for the Tigers, but after benching Javier Báez due to one baserunning blunder too many, they’ve won five in a row, including a doubleheader sweep of the Guardians on Tuesday.

Chis Sale came into his start on Tuesday with an 11.25 ERA, but he struck out 11 over six innings of one-run ball. The opponent? The Twins, who also helped the White Sox rotation recover from a series of dead-armed second starts. With the Guardians dropping back to .500, it’s just too hard to count the White Sox out from this division no matter how poorly they play.

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HallofFrank

I’m with you, Jim: as is, the designated pinch-runner sounds terrible. Here’s an alternate idea that maybe achieves a similar goal: you can pinch-run for catchers without using the bench spot or removing the catcher. That was the rule in high school: I was a catcher in high school (and slow as hell). Anytime I got on base, a bench player came out and ran for me. I stayed in the game and he stayed available on the bench.

Not only would it inject more speed into the game, but it’d have some other potentially desirable effects. It should help with pace of play (the catcher would have plenty of time to gear up) and it would reduce, however slightly, the physical toll on an especially physically demanding position. I wouldn’t hate this. But the idea of a runner coming in and out whenever and for whoever sounds silly.

Wayne

Leadoff catchers in High School were great. If you catcher could get On-base, then have a designated runner. It was great.

roke1960

Yes, that rule would be ridiculous. I would imagine a guy could pinch run, and if he scored, pinch run for the guy that drove him in.

Wayne

The Athletic said you could use the Designated Runner once per game, and then a second PR would be under regular rules. https://theathletic.com/4428834/2023/04/19/mlb-rules-experiment-ohtani-judge-angels-yankees/

GrinnellSteve

Here in Iowa runners can be designated for both the pitcher and catcher. It’s meant to speed the game up. Pitchers at this level are often good runners, so it’s not unusual to see them stay on the bases.

I kind of like your idea.

mikeyb

The rule actually doesn’t go far enough. The runner should get to stand in the opposite handed-batters box while his counterpart hits. Once he makes contact, the designated runner takes off to first and the hitter goes back to the box. (The runner does not get to wear any extra protective gear other than a catcher’s mask though).

The runner also gets stand next to the player in the field. When Sheets plays RF, Billy Hamilton stands right next to him. When the ball is hit, Billy can run and catch it. He is not, however, allowed to throw overhand or to any player other than his designated buddy, Sheets. He has to toss it underhand to him to then throw the ball into the infield.

gibby32

You’re hilarious!

Wayne

Jim referencing Burger/Dunning means that Sheets is getting traded?

gibby32

For some reason the pinch-runner proposal reminds me of an article I wrote almost ten years ago on southsidesox. The premise was that the DH should be allowed to enter the game defensively with a previously unused player entering as DH at the same time. I continue to be obsessed with that idea, and can think of no reason why it should not be implemented. It does not involve the re-entry of a previously used player and provides some defensive flexibility. A few things would need to be worked out, but the Shohei Ohtani circumstance should make an overhaul of the DH rules a possibility.

asinwreck

Might be a very interesting year to listen to Steve Stone if he’s making these public comments in April.